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Historic Films
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NT-3298 @ 00:21:13
The Eleventh Hour Show #298 Guest: Alfred Kazin Title: Our N.Y. Literary critic, Alfred Kazin, talks about the changing New York City, his book, his love of the City and Brooklyn, Central Park, Prospect Park. Original Broadcast Date: 2-2-90 TRT 26:28
RETURN TO INTERVIEW: Robert Lipsyte: In talking about New York as a great subject for literature. Do you think Bonfire of the Vanities got it right? Alfred Kazin: It got it right, but mixed in with an awful lot of scorn and hatred for the poor populace. Tom Wolfe is a is a southern Confederate. And I think of that book as the Confederacy's one victory especially in New York. You know, Wolfe comes from Richmond, and he has a good solid wasp background. The book is very charming, very brilliantly done, but it's journalism, because he's dealing with types all the time, and then it hasn't escaped me that the one who comes out of the end, as the one innocent victim of everybody else is of course, this miserable wasp, who was originally shown as an adulterer and all sorts of types of crap. But nevertheless, he's perceived as being slightly more innocent than the others you know. it's a wicked book in both sense the of the word wicked. Robert Lipsyte: The problem, of course, is that that is the picture of New York that is being offered now to the country and the world. Alfred Hazan: Exactly. Robert Lipsyte: And it's not your picture of New York, Alfred Kazin: certainly not, certainly not. there were things in it because it made me laugh, but also it made me very mad. Sample the picture has, you know, it's as if Jonathan Swift, instead of writing Gulliver's Travels had written had written about the blacks and the Jews in the Bronx. That scene in which the Jewish judge is holding on to the back of the doors of black Maria, and the black friends inside, they are cursing each other and the violence, racial epithets. That's New York, according to Mr. Wolf. I don't think it is the real story of New York. There is there is still more feeling between people between the different types. But of course, New York is like Austria Hungary before the First World War, you know, with Koch, of course, as the Emperor Franz Yosef, God help us. You know, it does have this fantastic lineup of nations, of languages, of tribes. I have had experiences in New York with people. Do you know that I've been driven by taxi by an Eskimo from Alaska, by Hassad wearing the full regalia, for example, and who scared all the other taxi drivers whenever they looked at him. In fact, one while we were waiting for red light was so frightened, he went right through the red light. And in one way or another, you know, there is that incredible.. What bothers me about New York is that not only do I not know what language is being spoken in the subway, I don't know which language it is you see and that bothers me. I should like to think that, you know, it's something I might possibly get some more knowledge of, but it's out there. Robert Lipsyte: Do you think that, do you feel it's slipping out of your grasp? Alfred Kazin: definitely. I mean, I mean, I put it very simply. It's the kind of thing which only very tough, very cynical people like Tom Wolfe can really do justice to it. And it's no accident, that Wolfe's book sold tremendously you see. I mean, the fact is that New York does not, I mean who wrote about New York with love. It was O'Henry. It was even F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby. It was Nathaniel West. It was um well, Saul Bellow. It was Bernard Malamud. It was Richard Wright, even, it was most of all it was Ralph Ellison. But these people you see were writing about New York as a human thing, where people like Wolfe write about it as a sociological problem. And then of course, they talk about themselves as Balzac, you see, and they want everybody to be like themselves. Well, that's just nonsense. Alfred Kazin: What I miss about New York, frankly, more than anything else, is the lack of fraternity between the different tribes or different countries, different languages, that's something I'm not used to. In the old days, where I grew up, it was a matter of course, you know, the Italians and the Greeks, and the Russians, outside my Jewish neighborhood, we were all very much aware of each other, because we had all come over at the same time, so to speak, or rather, our parents or grandparents had, and we all recognized ourselves as children of the poor. And there was no, nothing demeaning about that at all on the contrary. Robert Lipsyte: let me let me read another line of yours that that really struck me. "The city arouses us with energy, by which it exhausts us". "here's almost something sexual in that, and also a sense of completion and defeat. Ultimately, the city uses us often." Alfred Kazin: It's perfectly true. INew York is, of course, after Paris, the sexiest city in the world, sex is always in the air. But in Paris, it means a love affair. Here, it means that one night stands as far as I'm concerned. It's something brutal and hurried about the whole thing here. But the energy is fantastic. During the war in England, I used to be told by Englishman who lived in New York, that they needed less sleep than anywhere else. And I said, and you get less sleep, they don't you? And they said we certainly do. New York is a capital of insomnia. But one way or another, that energy flows through the streets, you realize it, every time I come back, I realize I'm galvanized everybody has as luckily people walk, for example, down 42nd Street, pushing others out of the way. Even though the schedule like everybody's schedule is a very important thing. We all know that. There's a kind of desperation and getting to the thing as such, you know, this morning, the subway example, I watched a woman being pushed out by another woman by another woman, who said, very simply get out of my way. And that might say, could be the slogan for a great deal of New York living these days. Get out of my way out of my way. Robert Lipsyte 24:43 Would you read something for me? It's on page 219. Something else? Alfred Kazin: Well, thank you for knowing my books. Oh, well, you know, the page number. In New York retain so much of the world's tragedies is endless displacements and tragedies, yet no one walking in streets with attention. You can miss some very deep grooves of the human experience as the century of lay gaze on Shin rumbles to within. So it's exciting to be a writer here, as it is fruitful for an artist photographer to keep his eyes open. The subject never lets you off. There is so much humanity packed up in the streets so much friction, so much idiocy. So much learning artistry, appetite for living. So much crime with so much love making so much eating and drinking on the street. That is not altogether in human to shut our ears to the screams we hear in the night. Too much we say it as much of the time or too much" Robert Lipsyte: Thank you so very much. That's the Eleventh hour. I'm Robert Lipsyte.
1990s NEWS